|With the kids I nannied - they're still close to my parents|
The main problem with this trip is that I've let my relationship with God suffer. I knew this trip would be full of emotions: attending my third sibling wedding as the still-single oldest child, knowing my time with the kids I used to nanny is temporary, cramming in conversations that are too tough for Skype, wanting to be there for my family but not always knowing how. I found out while here that several friends are experiencing significant changes or challenges in their lives. Visiting the US always hurts because it reminds me how much I love and miss people here. And when I return to Cambodia, my old routine will be gone: I'll have two months of language immersion in a small town with people I don't know well, and then a lot of unknowns in my schedule once I get back to Phnom Penh. I don't want to be overdramatic - the reunions have been joyful and less bittersweet than I'd expected. Things have gone great for me lately in Cambodia, and I'd be crushed if I couldn't go back. Still, my feelings have been complex.
|With a dear friend from college|
I knew that I'd need to stay grounded in truth to navigate those emotions, and also that I'm not the best at making time for Bible reading and prayer when my schedule is in flux. Clearly I still need to grow in this area! When I embrace being busy and enjoying "people time" to the exclusion of time alone with God, the inner turmoil that hums in the background and then boils over once I'm finally alone is anything but surprising.
|My dad, niece, and nephews|
I wasn't that excited last winter when the group picked this book. I don't need to read more about prayer... I just need to do it more! But I've found it informative, inspiring and refreshing.
One image in the book brought back a lesson I've repeatedly encountered:
The image shows a timeline from conversion to spiritual maturity. As a young believer, I feel only a small need to pray, as I can see only a fraction of God's holiness and my own sin. As my spiritual life matures, I see more clearly how great my need is for God and how great his grace is in my life. Thus, I realize more and more my tremendous need for prayer.
I remember arriving in Cambodia in 2009 and trying to plan a lesson with my co-teacher in a remedial writing class.
"What should we do on day one?" I asked her.
"I don't know, let's pray about it."
"Pray?!" I was convinced she was overspiritualizing it. She wasn't. She needed to pray and she knew it.
Years later, someone at my church in Cambodia told us, "In my 10+ years here, the greatest lesson I've learned is how much I need God." He had advanced degrees, impressive accomplishments, strong faith, and great relationships as a husband and father. I thought he was being too humble. He wasn't. He needed God and he knew it.
So when I come back to God, having ignored Him all day (or longer) and gotten myself into a tizzy, it seems obvious why I'm feeling agitated. It's not because my circumstances are that bad; it's because I've been dumb enough to try toughing it out alone. I need prayer, I need God, and I know it. Even when I don't apply it.
One helpful reminder from this book for those overcrammed days is breath prayers: "Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner," or even just, "Help, Lord!" or "Thank you." These have helped prevent a downward thought spiral on several recent occasions, just acknowledging His presence and His care for me.
This illustration has also sparked a lot of reflection. Miller looks at Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and how it avoids two dangers that believers face when praying. The more common "cliff" we fall off is not asking God for what we want. Instead, we try to get it through our own efforts, resulting in isolation from God. Cynicism can also hinder us from asking, as Miller points out. Jesus' solution is to ask boldly. Even in facing the cross, which he knew was necessary to offer salvation to all people, he honestly confessed to the Father that he didn't want to endure it. "Please take this cup from me."
The other "cliff" we can fall off is asking selfishly, resulting in putting ourselves above God and trying to boss him around. The antidote is to surrender completely. In the garden, Jesus went on to pray, "Yet not what I will, but what you will." If we try to surrender before we have asked boldly and honestly, we present a fake self to God and can't fully connect with Him. But if we ask boldly and then surrender completely, it brings us into deeper communion with God, into a dialogue where He can address not only our situation, but also the thoughts and emotions driving our requests.
I thought that I was pretty good about asking God for what I wanted, but I realized I tend to give up easily. My heart is more cynical than I'd have admitted before reading A Praying Life. This picture and Miller's broader challenge have moved me to sit with God and struggle with Him through what's on my mind, even if it's a topic we've discussed before. I'm often reluctant to take that time and face the junk, knowing He might reveal my selfishness in my request and reframe the issue. But whenever I do, it's a relief to sort through it with Him. Remembering who He is and what He has done is powerful. This book has helped me ask sooner when issues arise. It's also challenged me to pray for change - in myself, others, and society - in a few areas I hadn't really considered praying about before.
Here's a passage I needed this past week:
"What do I lose when I have a praying life? Control. Independence. What do I gain? Friendship with God. A quiet heart. The living work of God in the hearts of those I love. The ability to roll back the tide of evil. Essentially, I lose my kingdom and get his. I move from being an independent player to a dependent lover. I move from being an orphan to a child of God." (125-126)
I dearly love my illusions of control and independence. But if Jesus couldn't make it through the day without his Father, who am I to think that I could? More than that, why would I want to? Prayer opens my heart to see a deeper reality and enables me to tap into the same boundless power that resurrected Christ from the dead. It knocks off my homemade crown and reminds me who the true King is.
I'm still sometimes guilty of reading about prayer more than I actually pray. And I'm very frequently guilty of a small view of my need for God. But He is changing me, and I'm praying that His work in me will continue.